Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it’s enough.

—  Kermit the Frog

Cui Bono

Oct. 30, 2011


In Order

Anwar al-Aulaqi

Hard to Silence

Operating Blind

Not at Liberty

Muammar Gaddafi

Carried Away

Understand that I’m not saying that al-Aulaqi was not a terrorist or that Muammar al-Gaddafi was not a tyrant.  Neither am I saying they were.  What I AM saying is that insufficient proof has been offered.  People are being asked to do more than accept facts — they are being asked to believe certain assertions, to have faith.
Both Aulaqi and Gaddafi were recognised as being intelligent and both were respected men earlier in their lives.  What goes wrong?  There are two (or more) sides to every event, but sometimes only one seems to be reported.  At least approach these subjects with an open mind.

  • The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights argued on behalf of Anwar al-Aulaqi’s father last year that there is no “battlefield” in Yemen and that the administration should be forced to articulate publicly its legal standards for killing any citizen outside the US who is suspected of terrorism.  Otherwise, the groups argued, such a killing would amount to an extrajudicial execution and would violate US and international law.  “International human rights law dictates that you can’t unilaterally target and kill someone without that person posing an imminent threat to security interests,” said Vince Warren, executive director of the CCR.  “The information that we have, from the government’s own press releases, is that he is somehow loosely connected, but there is no specific evidence of things he actualised that would meet the legal threshold for making this killing justifiable as a matter of human rights law.”  ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner said that Aulaqi had been targeted for nearly 2 years and that the government would appear to have a very elastic definition of imminent threat.  The former senior intelligence official said the CIA did reviews every 6 months to ensure that those targeted for possible killing remained threats as defined by law and presidential findings. 
  • Mary Ellen O’Connell, vice chairman of the American Society of International Law, says Awlaki’s citizenship probably doesn’t make his killing illegal: in the 1942 Supreme Court case about Nazi saboteurs known as Ex Parte Quirin, the court found that the “US citizenship of an enemy belligerent does not relieve him from the consequences of a belligerency.”  But O’Connell says the killing is still a violation of international law, because the United States is not legally at war in Yemen.  Via the Daily Beast.
  • What should the evidentiary standard be for determining an American citizen poses a threat even warranting discussion of assassination?  We know that Anwar al-Awlaki (and Samir Khan) are noxious propagandists who are obviously guilty of incitement to murder.  We know this because of their public writings and videos.  Is that enough to warrant assassination?  I refuse to accept the word of any member of the Obama administration that they are worse than that.  When any member of the administration shows me evidence that they are, then I will consider that they are.  But the stakes of killing an American citizen on the say-so of the government are, in my non-lawyer opinion, too grave to accept the mere assurance of a government official.  To believe otherwise is to be cavalier about both life and liberty.  Via The Dish.

  • When Obama announced before a military gathering his success in assassinating an American citizen, cheers erupted.  The Obama administration and the media played the event as a repeat of the (claimed) killing of Osama bin Laden.  President Obama even went so far as to declare that the military assault that he authorised on Libya without consulting Congress was not a war, and, therefore, he could ignore the War Powers Resolution of 1973, a federal law intended to check the power of the President to commit the US to an armed conflict without the consent of Congress.
  • The American son of the al-Qaeda militant Anwar al-Awlaki was only 16 when he was killed by a US drone in Yemen weeks after a similar strike killed his father, raising fresh questions about the Obama administration’s use of targeted killings as a counterterrorism tool.  Abdel-Rahman Anwar al-Awlaki was among several people killed in a missile strike on 21 October in southern Yemen.  US officials said the target was the Egyptian-born Ibrahim al-Banna, a senior figure in al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, who also was reported killed.  The Awlaki family condemned the attack and said Abdel-Rahman was only going to dinner and was not involved in terrorism — he was a teenager who paid a hefty price for something he never did and never was.  Anwar al-Awlaki’s younger brother, 17-year-old Ahmed Abdel-Rahman al-Awlaki, was also killed in the air strike last week.  (I guess my biggest issue is that I don’t fully accept Yemen as a war zone.)

  • For years, Libya didn’t formally admit carrying out the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, but on 16 August 2003, they did admit responsibility — but not guilt — for Pan Am Flight 103 in a letter to the president of the United Nations Security Council.  The motive generally attributed to Libya can be traced back to a series of military confrontations with the US Navy that took place in the 1980s in the Gulf of Sidra, the whole of which Libya claimed as its territorial waters.  In 1981, two Libyan fighter aircraft were shot down, then, two Libyan radio ships were sunk.  Later, a Libyan Navy patrol boat was sunk followed by another Libyan vessel two days later.  (No, I did not look up the justifications offered for those actions.  It’s possible I may even have agreed with them.)  Muammar al-Gaddafi was accused of retaliating for these by ordering the 5 April 1986 bombing of a West Berlin nightclub frequented by US soldiers, which killed 3 and injured 230.  The US National Security Agency’s alleged interception of an incriminating message from Libya to its embassy in East Berlin [ignoring diplomatic immunity?] provided US president Ronald Reagan with justification for launching USAF warplanes 10 days later from Britain — the first US military strikes from Britain since World War II — against Tripoli and Benghazi in Libya.  Gaddafi claimed the air strikes killed Hanna, a baby girl he had adopted.  To avenge his daughter’s death, he is said to have sponsored the September 1986 hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan.  Then the US aided the Chadian National Armed Forces by supplying satellite intelligence during the Battle of Maaten al-Sarra, resulting in a devastating defeat for Gaddafi’s forces, causing him to accede to a ceasefire ending the conflict and his dreams of African dominance.  He blamed French and US “aggression against Libya.”  Then Pan Am Flight 103 was downed in December 1988.  And, tat for tit, the US shot down 2 more Libyan planes in 1989.
  • Congressman Ron Paul during a presidential debate expressed the belief that those who carried out the September 11 attack were retaliating for the many abuses perpetrated against Arab countries by the United States over the years.  The audience booed him, loudly.  Then, popular-song icon Tony Bennett in a radio interview said the US caused the 9/11 attacks because of its actions in the Persian Gulf, adding that President George W Bush had told him in 2005 that the Iraq war was a mistake.  Bennett of course came under nasty fire.  Then came the Islamic cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, who for some time had been blaming US foreign policy in the Middle East as the cause of anti-American hatred and terrorist acts.  So we kill him.  “No public relations campaign can save America from flawed policies.” — Christian Science Monitor, 29 November 2004
  • Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council and de facto president, has declared that Libyan laws in the future will have Sharia, the Islamic code, as its "basic source".  He lifted immediately, by decree, one law from Colonel Gaddafi’s era that he said was in conflict with Sharia — the one banning polygamy.  Further, bank regulations will in the future ban the charging of interest, in line with Sharia.  “Interest creates disease and hatred among people,” he said.  Libya is already the most conservative state in north Africa, banning the sale of alcohol.  The new rule may worry many young Libyans who, though observant Muslims, see themselves as more Western in their outlook.  Wars never quite work out according to plan, do they?


Qaddafi was, quite simply, a man who knew too much.  Taken alive, he would almost certainly have been handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which had indicted him — along with his son, Saif al-Islam, and brother-in-law and military intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi (whereabouts unknown) — for crimes against humanity in late June.  Imagine the stir he would have made in The Hague.  There, along with any number of fantasies and false accusations, he would almost certainly have revealed the extent of his intimate relations with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the details of his government’s collaboration with Western intelligence services in counterterrorism, with the European Union in limiting migration from Libyan shores, and in the granting of major contracts to big Western oil and construction firms.

"In the decade since 9/11 over half a billion people have died worldwide.  A great many choices could have delayed such deaths, including personal choices to smoke less or exercise more, and collective choices like allowing more immigration.  And cryonics might have saved some of them.  Yet, to show solidarity with these 3,000 victims, we have pissed away $3 trillion ($1 billion per victim), and trashed long-standing legal principles.  And now we’ll waste a day remembering them, instead of thinking seriously about how to save billions of others.  I would rather we just forgot 9/11." — US economist Robin Hanson  It’s a very brave or very insensitive American who would publicly question his nation’s entire 9/11 memorial project on the day of the 10th anniversary.  “Most people know how to remain silent.  Few people know when.”  The response to 9/11 didn’t do any of the things that the "leaders" who pushed those responses said those responses were going to do.  What those responses did do was piss away $3 trillion (and counting), kill a bunch of US soldiers, and squander the “good will” of the rest of the world while committing evils; the killing of many Iraqi civilians, the strengthening of al Qaeda, and the bankrupting of the US economy.  If we have any respect for history or humanity or decency left, isn’t it time to rip the Band-Aid off the wound, to remove 9/11 from our collective consciousness?  No more invocations of those attacks to explain otherwise inexplicable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and our oh-so-global war on terror.  No more invocations of 9/11 to keep the Pentagon and the national security state flooded with money.  No more invocations of 9/11 to justify every encroachment on liberty, every new step in the surveillance of Americans, every advance in pat-downs and wand-downs and strip downs that keeps fear high and the homeland security state afloat.

A fleet of US military drones on a Nevada Air Force base has been infected by a keylogger virus that tracks every key and button their pilots press.  The virus was first noticed by officials at Creech Air Force Base nearly two weeks ago using the base’s security system.  It logged every keystroke of the pilots in the control room on the base as they remotely flew Predator and Reaper drones on missions over Afghanistan and other battle zones.  There has been no confirmation of information being lost or sent to an outside source, but the virus has been resistant to military efforts to clear it from the system.  “We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” a source said.  [Does this mean that drones could be hacked and redirected?  That’s a scary thought.  I trust safeguards are in place.  I suppose it could even mean that the virus will now be able to be blamed for some “mistake” in the future when a virus-infected drone kills the “wrong” person(s).  But that’s unlikely ever to happen as that ploy should be too obvious to be considered by anyone, shouldn’t it?]

A new study says that 71 drivers in Chicago cross a structurally defective bridge every second.  CBS Chicago reports the 400 bridges included in the survey were all ones on which an engineer has identified a major defect in the deck or support structure.  Some of the bridges are shored up with temporary supports.  Maybe it’s hard to get a sense of urgency about infrastructure that’s been sitting there for half a century.  Sure, it needs to be fixed — but one more year won’t hurt.  Let the next administration deal with it?  It’s a big bill coming due.  Maybe it’s time for a transportation change.

The Waning of War

Worldwide Battle Deaths per 100,000 People

Worldwide Battle Deaths per 100,000 People

We’re in a great era of peace, says Steven Pinker.  When you put this alongside the collapse of domestic crime — at historic lows and still not soaring again despite brutal economic times — the modern world really is less nasty, brutish and short-lived.  And yet the news always highlights provocative violence over the daily humdrum.  One peacemaker Pinker mentions is cosmopolitanism — the expansion of people’s parochial little worlds through literacy, mobility, education, science, history, journalism and mass media.  These forms of virtual reality can prompt people to take the perspective of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them.  These technologies have also powered an expansion of rationality and objectivity in human affairs.  People are now less likely to privilege their own interests over those of others.  They reflect more on the way they live and consider how they could be better off.  Violence is often reframed as a problem to be solved rather than as a contest to be won.  The Internet has played a major part.  As one becomes aware of the historical decline of violence, the world begins to look different.  The past seems less innocent, the present less sinister.  One starts to appreciate the small gifts of coexistence that would have seemed utopian to our ancestors: the interracial family playing in the park, the comedian who lands a zinger on the commander in chief, the countries that quietly back away from a crisis instead of escalating to war.

Students in Bucks County’s Pennsbury School District are learning a new subject this year: marketing.  The 16 elementary, middle, and high schools are being adorned with — some say defiled by — advertisements as large as 5 by 10 feet.  Ultimately, 218 will appear on walls and floors, and shrink-wrapped over lockers, locker-room benches, even cafeteria tables.  In what administrators say is a first in the Philadelphia area, the Pennsbury school board signed a contract with a national advertising agency that can boost the district’s battered budget by as much as $424,000, giving the firm’s clients access to the habitat of 10,950 children of all ages.  New Jersey is allowing school districts to put ads on on the outside of school buses.  School Media has contracts for ads in 9 other districts in Minnesota and California.  The Los Angeles School District last year approved a corporate naming-rights plan that could bring in an estimated $18 million.  This past summer, the San Juan Unified School District, also in California, approved the posting of corporate signs on middle and high school campuses and hired an advertising firm.  Advertising works through the repetition of images and messages — the more you saturate, the more it gets into the brain.  But reaching kids in an authoritative, credible environment implies endorsement that may not be intended.

Some believe humans have a God-given dominion over the earth and others argue that we’re bound to a larger Gaian system and are, at our best, caretakers.  (I lean toward the caretakers idea.)  Maybe humankind made a subconscious collective bargain at the dawn of the industrial age to trade the resources of our planet for the chance to escape it.  (Wait a minute — I lean toward that idea, too.  But that doesn’t mean that I have to think that man has dominion over all the earth and that it was God that had it to give.)  In this middle age (of trading resources for chances), the West evolved a middle class — one which is now eroding and may be less enduring than the “American Dream” — exported to the rest of the world by culture and conquest.  Many people now have food, cars, gadgets.  Can we begrudge a single person these luxuries if we want them ourselves?  Can the planet bear my lifestyle multiplied by 7+ billion individuals?  Every consumer good has a cost not borne just by its price but bolstered by a “vanishing resource” economy.  We squander millions of years’ worth of stored energy from our planet to make not only things critical to our survival and comfort but things that simply satisfy our desire to possess.  [But is that a necessary stage we must go through — a type of adolescence — on our way to a more mature civilisation?]  We hope our consumerist culture makes life better — for ourselves, of course, but also for those who can’t afford to buy everything that we purchase, consume, or own.  If they can afford more than they once could, is that sufficient?

When Chris opened a letter from the Indiana Election Division, he was curious why there was a small Styrofoam cube inside the envelope.  Luckily, there was an explanation on a strip of paper packed with the letter: “The Styrofoam cube enclosed in this envelope is being included by the sender to meet a United States Postal Service regulation.  This regulation requires a first class letter or flat using the Delivery or Signature Confirmation service to become a parcel and that it 'is in a box or, if not in a box, is more than 3/4 of an inch thick at its thickest point.’  The cube has no other purpose and may be disposed of upon opening this correspondence.”

The Trashpile Cometh

What a Waste

What a Waste

Since the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, researchers have been predicting it would take about 2 years for the debris from Japan to hit Hawaii’s west-facing beaches.  “We have a rough estimate of 5-20 million tons of debris coming from Japan,” said University of Hawaii computer programming researcher Jan Hafner.  An average of 10 million tons of debris, the same amount released into the north Pacific basin in one year, was dislodged and set adrift in one day.  “Hawaii is just in the path,” said Hafner.  Hafner and UH researchers predict the first wave of tsunami debris will hit Midway Atoll by this winter, then Hawaii in something a bit less than 2 years.

The American Cancer Society has turned down a donation worth $500,000 from the Foundation Beyond Belief, a secular charity funded by atheists, freethinkers, and humanists.  Their offer to raise up to a half million dollars through the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life programme was recently tabled when the American Cancer Society declined to allow the Foundation to create a national Relay team as other non-profits have done.  The reaction to the decision by ACS to reject the generous offer made by the secular group has been one of disbelief and anger.  The ACS Facebook page has been flooded with angry posts disgusted with what they believe to be religious discrimination, and what many believe to be a foolish decision to decline a generous offer that could have done much good towards the fight against cancer.

Gary Becker’s theorem of social interaction is colloquially known as the rotten kid theorem.  He suggests that family members, even if they are selfish, will act to help one another if their financial incentives are properly linked.  Suppose that children will receive gifts of money from a wealthy, altruistic parent in order to make them happy.  One of the kids is a selfish, “rotten” kid who would take pleasure in harming his sibling.  The altruistic parent can induce the rotten child to behave benevolently by making his welfare contingent upon the welfare of his sibling.  The theorem suggests that parents should delay gifts of money to their children until they are older, or possibly until after they die.  If parents plan to will their children money in accordance with their needs, each child will have an incentive to help his siblings maximize their income, because higher earnings by the other siblings will mean that more of the money will be given to the rotten sibling.

Over the past few years, there have been an number of unexplained and unsolved disappearances on board cruise liners.  According to the US-based International Cruise Victims Association, 165 people have gone missing at sea since 1995, with at least 13 in 2011 alone.  Cruise ship holidays are enormously popular.  But what is happening to all these passengers who simply vanish while at sea, never to be seen again?  Are they the victims of a sinister crime wave?  Have they had a mishap at sea and fallen overboard, or perhaps chosen to take their own lives?  The sad fact is that, in many cases, no one knows.  And for the family and friends they left behind, that only compounds the heartache.  Loved ones remain in limbo; bereft, baffled and unable to grieve.  Is the idea of someone “slipping overboard” credible?  The rails on cruise ships are at least 3 and a half feet high (over a metre), which makes it incredibly difficult for anyone — even someone who might be drunk or ill — to pitch overboard.  Cruise ships have two things in plenty: alcohol, and isolation (for those who choose to cruise solo).  They also offer an easy method, which is close to hand 24 hours a day.  In your land-lubber life you may not always be close to a bridge or on the roof of a tall building, but on a cruise ship you’re only ever a few steps away from the railing.  The combination of alcohol and isolation is also one that can breed crime.  A rape, dispute, or mugging gone wrong could easily lead to the victim being knocked unconscious and pitched over the side.  It’s unlikely that people are falling off cruise ships accidentally.

The Pot Boils

This Is Hot

This Is Hot

An aerial view of the sea off the coast of the village of La Restinga on the Spanish Canary Island of El Hierro shows a huge green and brown stain.  A volcano under the sea erupted there 15 October 2011, the latest eruption in 3 months of seismic activity in the region.  The eruption released gas and threw up fragments of smoking lava some 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) off the coast.  Scientists have identified it as an underwater eruption.

Persin is a fungicidal toxin present in the avocado.  It is generally harmless to humans, but when consumed by domestic animals in large quantities it is dangerous.  Consumption of the leaves and bark of the avocado tree, or the skin and pit of the avocado fruit have been shown to kill birds 12-24 hours after consumption.  Eating the leaves will kill rabbits.  Larger female mammals get mastitis.  Persin has been suggested as a treatment for breast cancer.  Its chemistry is not yet understood, but it’s similar to a fatty acid, carried in an oil, and leaches into the body of the fruit from the pits.  Negative effects in humans seem to be primarily allergies evidenced in susceptible individuals.  Persin has recently been discovered to kill breast cancer cells.  It has also been shown to enhance the effect of the breast cancer fighting drug Tamoxifen.  This could potentially reduce the necessary dosage of current cancer drugs.  Persin is, however, highly insoluble in aqueous solutions and more research will be needed to put it into a soluble tablet form.

This demonstration of quantum levitation doesn’t show up in a photo as well as I would like.  The video is less than 2 minutes long.  I found it mesmerising.  The video was made by the superconductivity group in the School of Physics and Astronomy at Tel-Aviv University.

This might be a good time to consider fuel-efficient 2-wheel transportation.  Or, in the case of the Piaggio MP3 400, fuel-efficient 3-wheel transportation.  Though weather realities and cargo capacity will always limit their utility, motorcycles and scooters move millions of people every day.  But a persistent drawback keeps them from being even more widely accepted: they can fall over.  There can be many causes — forgetting to put your feet on the ground at a red light will do it — but loss of traction is among the most common.  A single front tire on a conventional scooter or cycle provides the rider all his steering control and nearly all his braking force.  In a panic stop, sliding the front wheel can cause a sudden crash, especially on slippery pavement or when the rider tries to brake and turn simultaneously.  On the highway, though, the MP3 400 easily stays with the traffic flow, even at the 75 miles-per-hour cruising speeds that prevail on the interstate (Piaggio says the top speed is 88 miles-per-hour) and delivers an average of 58 miles-per-gallon.

The Bigger the Better?

Largest Single Cell

Largest Single Cell

Largest Single Virus

Largest Single Virus

  • Xenophyophores — giant amœbas — are noteworthy for their size, as individual cells often measure 10 centimetres (4 inches).  They are extremely abundant on the seafloor, and host a variety of organisms.  Recent studies indicate that by trapping particles from the water, they can absorb high levels of lead, uranium and mercury and are resistant to large doses of heavy metals.  They are well suited to the life of darkness, low temperature and high pressure found in the deep sea.  The identification of these gigantic cells in one of the deepest marine environments on the planet opens up a whole new habitat for further study of biodiversity, biotechnological potential and extreme environment adaptation.  They have been observed at depths of 6.6 miles in the Mariana Trench off the coast of the Philippines.
  • A virus isolated in the Pacific Ocean off Chile’s coast is the largest known so far in the world.  At 0.7 microns (thousandths of a millimetre) in diameter, the Megavirus chilensis is 10 to 20 times larger than the average virus.  It probably infects amœbas, those unicellular organisms that float free in the sea.  (Maybe giant viruses infect giant amœbas?)  It is larger than some bacteria.  An electronic microscope is not necessary to see it as it can be seen with a common light microscope.  According to a study of DNA, the virus has more than 1,000 genes.  Furthermore, it was discovered that it has the capacity to build large trojan organelles – cells within cells — that can produce new viruses.  “A virus is generally found after it had caused a disease in human beings or in animals and plants.  But now we are starting what might be called environmental virology, looking for viruses everywhere,” says French scientist Jean-Michel Claverie, who along with scientist Chantal Abergel, was author of the study.

Only 1/3 of the heat energy produced in a nuclear reactor is transformed into electricity.  In Japan, the remaining 2/3 of the energy that remains – that is, twice as much energy as contained in the generated electricity – is disposed of in the sea.  In the cooling system, seawater cools the water vapour, which condenses again to water and is circulated through the reactor once again.  This heated seawater is called “thermal discharge”.  How much heat does this thermal discharge put into the sea?  The amount is startling.  Before the Fukushima accident, Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors were producing a total of 49,112,000 kilowatts of electricity.  Every day they were throwing away twice that much, approximately 100,000,000 kilowatts of energy, in the form of heat, into the sea.  Of course it seriously impacted the ocean’s ecology.  Before saying that nuclear power plants supply 1/3 of the demand for electricity, it needs to be said that twice that much energy released as heat.  In Japan, the number one global warming agent is the nuclear power plants.  When this thermal discharge is released, the heat does not immediately disperse.  Rather it concentrates and remains suspended in what are called “hot spots.” This has a very large effect on sea life near the shore.  In the shallows, even a difference of 2-3° kills fish eggs or young fish.  (But, to put this in perspective, a coal plant wastes about 60% of its heat energy rather than 67%.  See the Rankine cycle for an explanation of why.)

If you use your laptop on your lap, or leave it plugged in all the time, you may well be cruising for what some experts call Picnic (Problem in Chair Not in Computer) or ID-10t (idiot) errors — computer problems caused by clueless users.  Technical support professionals say these errors are responsible for at least half of all computer repairs.  “You’d be surprised how many people unknowingly damage their computers,” said Derek Meister, a technician for the Geek Squad, Best Buy’s repair and on-line support service.  A classic mistake, Meister said, is using a laptop on your lap.  Despite the name, a laptop should be operated on a flat and firm surface so that it rests on the four little nubs usually found on the base.  A lap desk or even a large enough book will suffice.  The point is to allow air to circulate around the machine.  Letting a laptop rest on your thighs — or worse, sink into a cushy comforter — prevents internal heat from radiating outward and can block air intake vents.  This causes overheating, a major cause of component failure in computers.  Using a laptop on a less-than-flat surface can also put the hard drive at an awkward angle, which can also cause damage.  Leaving it plugged in all the time diminishes the battery life and degrades its performance.  Batteries, like muscles, atrophy if not exercised.  Unplugging your laptop once in a while, say 2-3 times per week, is enough to keep the battery fit.  It’s also not a good idea to drain your battery completely and not recharge it for extended periods.  Leaving a battery uncharged for a long time can cause a degradation of its chemicals.

  • “Unlike in the past, ignorance is no longer tempered with humility.  Rather, after years of psychotherapy disguised as pedagogy, ignorance is now buoyed by self-esteem — which, in turn, makes students more resistant to remediation since they don’t believe there’s a problem.  For the last two decades, I’ve taught freshman courses at CUNY and SUNY colleges in the city; the majority of my students have been products of the city’s public schools.  I am saddened, therefore, to report that more and more of them are arriving in my classes with the impression that their opinions, regardless of their acquaintance with a particular subject, are instantly valid — indeed, as valid as anyone’s.  Pertinent knowledge, to them, is not required to render judgement.” — Mark Goldstein, State University of New York, “Other Opiates: What Kids Know”
  • “I hear more and more from our faculty members that students simply do not turn in assignments, do not attend class with any regularity, do not respect others in their demeanor or behaviours, and do not see any value in learning as a process.  These students, they tell me, are convinced that the final product is the goal, whether that is a grade, a certificate, or a degree.  All of this, they say, is in much greater frequency now than in the past.  I hear it so often now, from so many disciplines and demographics, that I believe it is the most important barrier to good learning in our classrooms, both for these students and for those who are more responsible.” — Larry Oveson, faculty co-president, Minnesota State College, The Green Sheet, December 2002
  • "Nowadays, students seem to be better than teacher."  Spoken by a student, of course.  But in some ways, she’s likely right.  The value of depth of knowledge in relation to breadth of knowledge needs to be computed for the long-term during periods of changing opportunities.

An education isn’t how much you’ve committed to memory, or even how much you know.
It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t.

— Anatole France
Only when we know a little do we know anything; doubt grows with knowledge.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Franz Liszt

A Painting by Miklós Barabás Middle Aged Here, Liszt was 74 Photograph from Hungary, 1876

October 2011 was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Romantic era pianist, performance phenomenon, composer, educator and philanthropist, Franz Liszt.  As pianist, he mesmerized thousands in his far-ranging tours from the late 1820s until 1848; his keyboard writing changed piano music forever.  He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age and perhaps the greatest pianist of all time.  As educator, Liszt not only taught scores of pianists who later became famous, he helped many along with their careers.  He took on many woman students who were able to become first rank pianists, partly though his high regard for women as individuals.  He took on many Jewish students, and is regarded as one of the few composers working in Germany during the 1860-1880 period without a hint of anti-Semitism.  Adding to his reputation was the fact that Liszt gave away much of his proceeds to charity and humanitarian causes.  In fact, he had made so much money by his mid-40s that virtually all his performing fees after 1857 went to charity.  While his work for the Beethoven monument and the Hungarian National School of Music are well known, he also gave generously to the building fund of Cologne Cathedral, the establishment of a Gymnasium at Dortmund, and the construction of the Leopold Church in Pest.  There were also private donations to hospitals, schools and charitable organisations such as the Leipzig Musicians Pension Fund.  When he found out about the Great Fire of Hamburg, which raged for 3 weeks during May 1842 and destroyed much of the city, he gave concerts in aid of the thousands of homeless there.  This is thought by some to be the finest example of his work.

Steve Jobs and his biological father met, allegedly before either knew they were related in the 1980s.  According to a 60 Minutes interview with Walter Isaacson, Jobs used to frequent a restaurant his father managed in the 1980s.  Jobs was adopted.  Later in life, he befriended his biological sister, Mona Simpson.  When Simpson visited their father, he told her, “I wish you could have seen me when I was running a bigger restaurant.  Everybody used to come there.  Even Steve Jobs used to eat there.  Yeah, he was a great tipper.”  Simpson told Jobs about the conversation, but Jobs never pursued a relationship with his father because he didn’t trust him.  He did recall the meeting though.  “I had been to that restaurant a few times, and I remember meeting the owner.  He was Syrian.  Balding.  We shook hands.”  One of the comments said, “Is this stuff really that fascinating?” — which is no doubt true from a certain perspective.  But there are 350 million people living in the US.  The odds are certainly against them randomly meeting, and even more heavily against them each remembering the meeting later.  My husband was adopted shortly after his birth in Indio, California.  Several decades later, he learned that his birth mother’s family owned a marine supply store in San Diego, in which place he had spent a considerable amount of time.  Neither he nor the owners were aware of any relationship.  Do I think anything is meant by this?  Not really.  We all get around a lot more than we used to.  That said, there often is an affinity that draws related people to each other if they do happen to meet.  For my part, I suspect Jobs went to the restaurant specifically to anonymously meet his father.

Blue blistering barnacles — it’s Jackson.  Sir Peter Jackson, dressed as Tintin’s sea-faring pal Captain Haddock, appears in a new book, The Art of the Adventures of Tintin. The book was written by Weta Workshop’s Chris Guise.  Andy Serkis, who plays Haddock in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, said he was gobsmacked at Jackson’s acting attempt.  “This was real hard for me because he played the part so well.  He’s a brilliant actor and could actually play Haddock.  I was quite lucky to get in there really, because some of that early test stuff he did was hilarious.”

Lieutenant Colonel Barbara Ridler who died on August 10 aged 95, was the friendly dragon who presided, as establishments’ officer, over the administration of the Conservative Research Department during the 1970s.  It was in no small measure thanks to Barbara Ridler’s benign if somewhat military discipline that parliamentary briefings, policy papers and speeches for opposition spokesmen, not to mention the door-stopping Campaign Guides, were produced on time (and without too many typographical errors).  One of her main responsibilities was to manage the secretaries, mostly girls from “good families” several notches up the social scale from the “desk officers” for whom they worked.  Legend has it that they were recruited, at Barbara Ridler’s insistence, under a “1,000-acre test” (possibly on the ground that no girl whose father owned anything less could possibly live on CRD wages).  During her years of service Barbara Ridler had frequent contact with Princess Mary, the Princess Royal, controller commandant of the WRAC.  On one occasion during a visit by the Princess to HQ, Northern Command, the Princess held out her hand to shake that of a general’s young daughter who, unbeknown to Barbara Ridler, “had concealed a hamster in it.”

Substance and Meaning

An Author Late in Life

An Author Late in Life

Zuckerman Doing What He Does

Zuckerman Doing What He Does

Let's Rotate!

Let’s Rotate!

  • When Harvey Chochinov was a young psychiatrist working with the dying, he had a powerful experience with one of his patients — a man with an inoperable brain tumour.  “One of the last times that I went into his room to meet with him, on his bedside table was a photograph of him when he had indeed been young and healthy and a bodybuilder.  This incredible juxtaposition of these two images,” says Chochinov, “made it clear that, by placing the photograph in such a prominent position, this was how he wanted to be seen." People want to assert themselves in the face of assaulting and annihilating death when who they are will completely cease to exist.  Since that realisation, Chochinov helps his terminal patients to create a formal written narrative of their lives — a document that can be passed on to whomever they chose (probably what Steve Jobs intended with his biography that he gave interviews for, but had no time to read — so no second thoughts).  The patients are asked a series of questions about their lives and history and rate which parts they remember most or think are most important.  Their answers are transcribed and presented to them for editing until, after going back and forth with the therapist, a polished document results that can be passed on to the people that they loved.  He calls it dignity therapy.  The stories we tell about ourselves at the end of our lives are often very different than the stories that we tell about ourselves at other points.  Some people at that point choose to reinterpret life, while other choose to frame their lives as a warning.
  • Why wait until you’re facing death?  Douglas Crets explains the new Facebook feature, Timeline: “What makes this significant is that prior to the update people were just talking and posting in real-time the things they wanted to share with their friends.  This new format allows you to go back in time to periods in your life that happened before there was a Facebook, making your Facebook profile into a graphically-intense version of your entire life.”  It’s an autobiography without æsthetics.
  • An intense life can be lived with abandon.  One might move from engagement to engagement, or stick with a single engagement but diving into it, holding nothing back.  One throws oneself into swimming or poetry or community organising or fundraising, or perhaps all of them at one time or another.  Such a life is likely a meaningful one.  And this is true even where it might not be an entirely moral one.  This intensity leads to behaviour that we might call morally compromised.  Intense lovers can leave bodies in their wake when the embers of love begin to cool.  Intense athletes may not be the best of teammates.  Our attitudes toward people like this are conflicted.  There is a sense in which we might admire them and another sense in which we don’t.  This is because meaningful lives don’t always coincide with good ones.  Meaningful lives can be morally compromised, just as morally good lives can feel meaningless to those who live them.  We should not take this to imply that there is no relationship between meaningfulness and morality.  They meet at certain moral limits.  An evil life, no matter how intense or steadfast, is not one we would want to call meaningful.  But within the parameters of those moral limits, the relationship between a meaningful life and a moral one is complicated.  They do not map directly onto each other.  (This is where some politicians and celebrities get into trouble.)

It’s not just that a lot of the shows are set in suburbia — suburban life actually creates the appetite for them.  Reality TV (from the Kardashians to Jersey Shore ) is a product of isolation plus sprawl.  Sprawl + isolation = the substitution of televised, crazy-eyed pods of frenemies for actual human communities.  “The knee-jerk reaction to reality TV is that it’s dumbification,” celebrity urbanist Richard Florida says.  “But it’s not, and the people watching aren’t dumb.  They’re just looking for connection.”  Florida uses Cambridge University psychologist Peter Rentfrow’s concept of communal consumers to describe reality junkies.  “These are people who want stories about people and who used to rely on gossip, or on the little mini-dramas in their community,” he says.  “And when you’re isolated in the suburbs, you don’t have that.”  (My grandmother watched soap operas for the same reason, I think.)  The prospect of having to settle for the sniping of a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills (which has taken on darker overtones following the suicide of a cast member’s estranged husband) in place of a real drama-dishing housewife from down the block is pretty bleak.  But such, Florida argues, are the results of picket-fence-bounded displacement.  “Think of it this way,” says the New Jersey–bred Florida, setting up a comparison from his own upbringing.  “My parents, growing up in Newark, had no need for these types of stories.  They could get all the interaction and the drama they needed right there in the neighbourhood.”

I’m not from Britain and I haven’t owned a tv for decades.  I didn’t even know who Pan Ayres was before I saw this, but I still thought this was funny.  I don’t know if she’s always funny or not, but I see where she’s soon to perform in Wellington, so I could go find out if I wanted.  (I won’t.)

In a recent study, biologist Anthony Cashmore has argued that a belief in free will is akin to religious beliefs, since neither complies with the laws of the physical world.  One of the basic premises of biology and biochemistry is that biological systems are nothing more than a bag of chemicals that obey chemical and physical laws.  Generally, we have no problem with the “bag of chemicals” notion when it comes to bacteria, plants, and similar entities.  So why is it so difficult to say the same about humans or other “higher level” species, when we’re all governed by the same laws?  As Cashmore explains, the human brain acts at both the conscious level as well as the unconscious.  It’s our consciousness that makes us aware of our actions, giving us the sense that we control them, as well.  But even without this awareness, our brains can still induce our bodies to act, and studies have indicated that consciousness is something that follows unconscious neural activity.  Just because we are often aware of multiple paths to take, that doesn’t mean we actually get to choose one of them based on our own free will.  As the ancient Greeks asked, by what mechanism would we be choosing?  The physical world is made of causes and effects — “nothing comes from nothing” — but free will, by its very definition, has no physical cause.

Same Genes, Different Circumstances







These are all the same two people.  In total, they were photographed 9 times, each startlingly different.  [Does this show anything important?  “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, maybe?] This is the creation of artist Nacho Rojo.  Via Sparkverse.

People who frequently use tanning beds experience changes in brain activity during their tanning sessions that mimic the patterns of drug addiction, new research shows.  Scientists have suspected for some time that frequent exposure to ultraviolet radiation has the potential to become addictive, but the new research is the first to actually peer inside the brains of people as they lay in tanning beds.  Several parts of the brain that play a role in addiction were activated when the subjects were exposed to UV rays.  The findings, which appear in the coming issue of the journal Addiction Biology, may help explain why some people continue to tan despite awareness about risks such as skin cancer, premature ageing and wrinkles.  “What this shows is that the brain is in fact responding to UV light, and it responds in areas that are associated with reward,” said Dr Bryon Adinoff, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and an author of the study.  “These are areas that we see activated when someone is administered a drug or a high-value food like sugar.”  On one occasion, the researchers used a special filter that blocks only the UV light, although the tanners weren’t told of the change.  But the tanners could tell.

Propofol (Michael Jackson’s cause of death) is not a sleeping aid; that’s “not even in the ballpark of appropriate use,” says anæsthesiologist Beverly Philip.  But propofol has another property: a significant potential for recreational use.  “It’s not a narcotic like heroin, and doesn’t get you high,” says anæsthesiologist Ethan Bryson of Mount Sinai Medical Center, NY, “but it does provide a feeling of oblivion or being spaced out.”  As a general anæsthetic, propofol acts on the brain’s GABA receptors, which cause inhibitory neurons — those that quiet other circuits — to fire; that’s how it induces unconsciousness.  It also increases levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, triggering a sense of reward similar to sex or cocaine.  Some users experience euphoria, sexual disinhibition, even hallucinations, followed by a feeling of calm and an upbeat mood.  Since it’s so widely used — it revolutionised ambulatory anæsthesia, allowing a physician to knock someone out in seconds and have them up and about 10 minutes later — scientists have no shortage of subjects able to describe their experience.  About 1/3 remember nothing; another 1/3 say they dreamt, but don’t recall specifics.  The rest experience “vivid, strange dreams, sometimes of a sexual nature.”  Once it wears off, many report feeling well-rested, energetic, and happy.  Murray said he gave Jackson propofol because the singer wanted to feel energised for rehearsals, but it doesn’t provide a restorative sleep; anyone using it regularly could become dependent on it to function.  A survey of academic anæsthesiology departments found 18% reported propofol abuse by physicians or nurses — a 500% increase from 10 years earlier.  Upward of 30% of abusers eventually die from using it.  Unlike other anæsthetics, it has no reversing agent and no straightforward way to rescue someone who takes too much.

Nimble Ma Jei astonished tourists when she scrambled 70 feet up a virtually sheer wall at Zhonghau Castle, in Nanjing, eastern China — just to dodge the £2.50 admission fee.  Thrifty Jei — who had no rope or safety equipment — told fellow visitors she’d grown up in Jiangsu province, climbing the walls of Zhonghau Castle since childhood and had never once paid to get in.  But unfortunately her stunt encouraged other visitors to follow her example — with two falling and breaking their legs and three others having to be rescued by police.  “She ran up the wall like a goat and made it look easy.  But when people tried it for themselves they saw it wasn’t quite as simple as they thought,” explained one tourist.

Possible Vacation Destinations


  • At left is the temple building at Wulong Natural Rock Bridges, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chongqing Municipality, China.  Wulong is located at the southeast of Chongqing, 170 kilometres from Chongqing City.  It is sited in the famous karst mountainous area near the largest tributary of the Yangtze River.  Here are found unique and rich Chinese caves, doline, canyons, peaks and other geological Wonders.  Wulong is a national geological park.
  • The internationally unique calcareous tufa caves of Castle Hill were created as an effect of the hot water springs almost half a million years ago.  Later, the small caves were connected to each other and also to the cellarage of the houses of the Castle District for economic and military purposes, and the complex thus developed into a veritable labyrinth under the Castle Hill.  In the 1930s, as part of the war-time defense programme, the complex of cellars was converted into a shelter large enough to accommodate as many as 10,000 people at a time.  Disfigured with concrete, it served as a secret military retreat during the Cold War.  When the Labyrinth of Buda Castle opened in 1983 the first and biggest Hungarian historical wax museum was set up here.  During the reconstruction works, which took place in 1996/97, the almost 10-kilometres-long labyrinth regained its pre-war look as much as it was possible.
  • Light-painting provides a way to highlight only those elements of a photo that you want and, to a limited extent, provides landscape photographers withsome of the lighting capabilities previously available only to studio photographers.  “Paint-in” your subject using a hand-held flashlight: open the camera shutter, then run off to the side to provide directional lighting or else stay in one place to create sharp shadows and edges, or even move around enough to blur the apparent light source for a more diffuse illumination.  With a tightly-focused beam, you can selectively highlight just those parts of the composition that you want; filters allow painting different subjects in different colours.  Of course, all this must be done at night, when light is dim enough to allow long exposure times and the light from a flashlight is sufficient to overwhelm any ambient light.  However, a totally dark, black sky is generally not attractive, so light-painting is best done during fairly brief windows of time a couple of hours after sunset or before sunrise when sufficient blue remains in the sky to balance the artificial light and still provide an exposure time sufficiently long (about 30 seconds is good) to enable some control of the light-painting.  It works best with subjects at distances up to around 100 feet from the camera; beyond that, the flashlight illumination falls off too much.  A high-powered LED Maglight that emits an amazingly collimated, intense white/blue beam works well.  Coloured gel filters taped on allow the colour temperature of light to be adjusted.

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From a description of one speaker’s speech at the Indianapolis Creation Evidence Expo: "The next half of his speech was about the Great Flood and how Pangaea split with the tower of Babel.  He went on about how God gave all nations some sort of specialty and that’s why great scientist and geniuses come out of Europe." P Z Meyers’ reaction to that: “I do like the image of plate tectonics explained by god smiting a tower in Mesopotamia and sending North America skittering westward to create the Atlantic Ocean.  And the idea that Pangaea could be found on earth roughly, according to Young Earth Creationism chronology, in 600BCE is hilarious.”  Actually, Pangaea formed during the late Paleozoic Era when several smaller continents collided, welding together to form a single supercontinent.  The animated gif begins early in the Mesozoic Era, during the Triassic Period, showing the motion of the continents to their present positions.  Uploaded 13 April 2003 by the US Geological Services.  photo source: GeomapsUSGS

“In Bali, the range of accommodation options is virtually limitless.  There aren’t many places in the world that give as good a value as the hotels and villas in The Island of Gods.  Ubud Hanging Gardens is ridiculously difficult to find, but once there, it is heaven on earth.  The resort is quietly tucked away on top of a hill in the middle of a forest.  There is literally nothing at all within its vicinity.  What they offer is the ultimate in serenity and luxury.  Each unit is located on the hill slope, so instead of taking the lift from the lobby, you reach your room using a funicular train.  They have free internet access, an outdoor bathtub and a spectacular heated infinity private pool.  They are built in such a way as to resemble Bali’s cascading rice paddy fields.  But just outside the restaurant, overlooking the forest, is the resort’s most jaw-dropping feature: the double-storey freeform infinity pool.” — Kenny Sia

Some people find that they can live easily with lower bedroom temperatures merely by using a heavy down comforter.  But some prefer their beds to be warmed beforehand.  One economical way to do this is to take a cloth sack filled with feed corn and heat it in the microwave as if it were pop corn (it doesn’t pop), then use it as a foot warmer in bed (or anywhere cold feet or pulled muscles are a problem).  It works great.  One commenter: “We’ve had ours in use every winter for 5 years now.  No signs of wear.  My husband was in the custom canvas business at the time, and made it out of a scrap piece of “Sunbrella” acrylic yacht canvas — finished, it was about the dimension of a sheet of typing paper.  The corn always seems to give off a slighty moist heat, and faint corn aroma.  I suspect it reabsorbs moisture from the air.”  Another commenter: “I’ve heard that buckwheat seed works well too.  My friend sews a couple of kitchen hand towels together into a “pillowcase” shape and fills it with maybe 4 pounds of regular (not minute) rice, then sews the open end closed.  This size you microwaves in 3-4 minutes.  If you’re putting it directly on a person, you’ll want to wait a few minutes after microwaving to avoid TOO much heat, but as a bed warmer, no wait required.  For the deluxe, slightly aromatic version, you can use Jasmine rice instead.  If you want to wash the cover or change the rice inside, take out the last seam and remove rice, clean the bag, refill and sew again.”  For a quick “no sew” model, a clean, all-cotton tube sock with 1 to 2 pounds of rice works.  If the sock it too thick to knot the open end securely, after microwaving, fold over in a non-leaky way and safety pin shut.  This size microwaves in 1½-2 minutes.  (For safety, it is recommended you microwave them with a glass of water to provide a bit of moisture as this reduces the chance of smouldering.)

A Visual Paean to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

In the Service of Art

In the Service of Art

The Beauty of Order by Swiss artist and comedian Ursus Wehrli

Grown at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens in Dorset, the Gunnera manicata leaf is big enough for a whole family to stand underneath.  The plant, native to Brazil, has been growing at the gardens for the last 30 years but its leaves this year are 3 feet longer than usual.  It is believed the wet summer is responsible.  The leaves of the plant — which is known as Giant Rhubarb — are usually about 8 feet wide.  It might look friendly, but there are thousands of tiny spikes on the underside of the giant leaf and down the plant’s stalk.  In the jungle the tropical plant’s leaves often overlap to form huge canopies used to shelter from rain.  The plant bears thousands of minute reddish flowers on club-shaped spikes up to 6 feet tall.

Korean truck elevators are useful for moving into or out of areas of tall buildings.

Bizarre Halloween Jack O’Lantern carved pumpkins by Ray Villafane take him just two hours to carve, slice and gouge.  He uses everything from spoons to scalpels to create his pumpkin masterpieces.  He also uses common clay carving tools.  The 42-year-old said: “Not all pumpkins will look good.  The most important thing is its weight.  You need to pick the meatiest pumpkin.”  He adds, “They are a pleasure to make.”  The pumpkin on the right, the zipperhead model, took “the best part of a day” to complete.  There was no mention of how long these last.  He also does sandsculpting — another hobby whose results (other than a photograph) are quite short-lived.


Sealing His Fate

Sealing His Fate

Learning His Lesson

Learning His Lesson

Scratching His Itch

Scratching His Itch
Exercising His Jaw

Exercising His Jaw

Chorus Line

Contemplating His Future

Birds of a Feather

Renewing His Drivers’ License

  • The Cape Cross Reserve on the west coast of Namibia is the home of one of the largest colonies of cape fur seals, Arctocephalus pusillus, also known as brown fur seals, in the world.  About 80,000-100,000 seals live at Cape Cross — an impressive sight and smell.  The cape fur seals’ main predator is the great white shark, but for the pups there are two other dangers: jackals and gulls.  For the jackal, pups are easy fast food — they just walk into the chaos and grab one of the many pups.  Cape gulls mostly seek the afterbirth but sometimes try to peck very young pups to death.
  • This looks suspiciously like entrapment.  (Does the fact that they post a picture of it before it happens, but none after, prove the experiment was a dud?)
  • Yellow-legged Gull, Larus michahellis, juvenile.

New Zealand sculptor Hannah Kidd is based in Franz Josef, but she exhibits throughout New Zealand and abroad.  “I’m investigating people and the relationships they have with their surrounding environment.  Animals continue to feature heavily in my work and are frequently used as a vehicle to discuss the human condition.”  Hannah graduated from Otago Polytechnic School of Art in 2001.  She sculpts predominantly using steel rod and corrugated iron.

A storm cloud threatens to develop into a full-blown tornado behind a cluster of family homes.  The photographer took this shot of an explosive storm from the roof of his house in Taber, Canada.  Expecting the sunny weather to take a turn for the worse he watched intently as the billows started spinning into a furious funnel.  He says: “Our area of the country seldom sees tornadoes so this was a rare sight indeed and the rainbow underneath made it even more special.”  This picture was created by stitching together multiple photographs in a vertical panorama.

Two Faces:

  • At left: I posted another of these a month or two ago, but I like this one better.
  • At right: A drawing by Leif Parsons — to me, it looks like a perfect illustration for indecision.  You might want to visit Parsons’ website because it is certainly — how shall I put this? — a bit out of the ordinary.

The Mustangs of Las Colinas

Fording the Stream

Fording the Stream

Don't Lag Behind!

Don’t Lag Behind!

Here They Come

Here They Come

One of the largest equestrian sculptures in the world, 9 wild bronze mustangs cross a “stream” in Williams Square, a stark, pink-granite plaza in the Las Colinas Urban Center in Irving, Texas.  African wildlife artist Robert Glen installed this spectacular piece in 1984, as a memorial to the heritage of Texas.  It took him 8 years to construct.  The casting was done by The Morris Singer Foundry in Basingstoke, England.  The “splashes” are provided by small fountains of water embedded under hooves.

Some of the most overused words on resumes:
1.  Accomplished. Every job seeker is accomplished.  Instead try Peak Performer.
2.  Successful. Look at alternative wording.  Instead try: Best In Class.
3.  Skillful or Skilled. Boring.  Seriously.  Instead try: Talented, Resourceful.
4.  Problem-Solver. Does this really need saying?  Instead try: Troubleshooter or Forward-Thinking.
5.  Results-Driven. Don’t sound like everyone else — stand out.  Instead try: Performance-Driven.
6.  And last but not least Dedicated and Dependable. Instead try: High-Potential, Quality-Driven, Dynamic.

"I have no feelings.  If ever I do, they won’t defeat my intelligence."  The Piano Teacher (2001).  This is an animated gif, but she blinks and taps her fingers a bit before finally turning her head.  (I like understatement.)

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Just in time for Halloween.  For some reason, this clip runs really slowly for me.  The original video is here.

Modern Holiday Greetings?  Tweet Them!

At least they were all present in the same room.  (For a while, anyway.)

I’m not sure why the picture on the left appeals to me: Its sparsity?  Its austerity?  I could find no information about it.  The photo on the right is Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand.

From the inimitable Dr Boli.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

— Aristotle

What It Takes to Look Official: More — and less — than you might think…

Moving Right Along

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  • Sam the Shoplifting Seagull steals only Tangy Cheesy Doritos from a convenience store in Aberdeen, Scotland.  He became so popular that locals started paying for his crisps.  Shop assistant Sriaram Nagarajan said: “For some reason he only takes that one particular kind.”  Video.  [Maybe he steals them because they’re closest?]  Gif source: StopThief.  Video here.
  • It’s a jumping horse.  Photographer Bosko Kovacevic.  Gif source: HeDIDN’TFail.

This message has importence so listen up!

Are BAD Clients Better than NO Clients?

Client: “I don’t really like that the website has a top and bottom.”
Me: “Everything has a top and bottom.  That’s how it goes.”
Client: “Not true.  Circles don’t.”
Me: “So you want a circular website?”
Client: “Yup! Like a conveyer belt, or — ooh! — a rolodex.  Every time you scroll up past the top, you get to the bottom.  Every time you scroll down past the bottom, you get to the top.”
Me: “Then how will we designate the …”
Client: “What’s the top and bottom?  Good point.  If everything is continuous, then there can’t be a top or bottom.”
Me: “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.”
Client: “So, what we need is a randomizer!”

Client: “Our last request is sort of a sensitive one.”
Me: “Okay…”
Client: “We’d like to ask that you to get rid of any, uh, pornography you might, uh, have on your computer.  We just wouldn’t want it to accidentally wind up on the website, you know?”
Me “Well, firstly, it doesn’t really work like that, you can’t just—”
Client: “I know those sorts of things are hard to get rid of, especially if you’ve formed an attachment to them.”
Me: “What?  No.  What!?”
Client: “I guess if you have to keep it, keep it at an opposite corner or file or whatever.”
Me: “What!?”

Client: “We want a no-right-click script so people, by which we mean pædophiles, can’t save pictures from our custom gallery of kids.”
Me: “But the gallery has an ‘email me this picture’ form.”
Client: “That’s for parents.”

Client: “We love our new building and we thought it would be great to have pictures of it in all 4 seasons from the exact same angle.”
Photographer: “That sounds like a really cool project.”
Client: “Great!  So what are the chances having those ready for our convention next month?”

Client: “I need this campaign to change direction completely, spin around in the other direction.  I know 360° makes you point the same way again, so I guess I’m asking for a 359° change.”
Me: “So you want us to exert the most amount of effort for the least amount of change…”
Client: “What?  No.  359°!  Big change!”